Vuelta 6: Freire on fast track

Oscar Freire puts his injury worries behind him to take the sixth stage of the Vuelta, which ends in

Oscar Freire puts his injury worries behind him to take the sixth stage of the Vuelta, which ends in
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Shades of Milan-San Remo at the finish of the sixth stage in Castellon de la Plana this afternoon as Oscar Freire got the better of Erik Zabel, with Stuart O'Grady coming in third to repeat the podium of this season's first Classic. As had been the case in March, this trio took advantage of some weakness on the part of Alessandro Petacchi. Fourth in San Remo in March, today the Italian was dropped on the second-cat climb 25 kilometres from home and never saw the front group again. The lead stayed with US Postal's Manuel Beltran for the second day, and the Spaniard should keep his lead through tomorrow's stage into Valencia, when the main contenders should be saving themselves as much as possible for Saturday's long time trial. In the usual frantic start to the stage, defending champion Roberto Heras showed quick tactical thinking by jumping away to contest and win the first intermediate sprint. It was only worth six seconds but with so many riders in contention who knows how valuable that sprint win could turn out to be. After that flurry of activity, Quick Step's Kevin Hulsmans and Lampre's Manuel Quinziato went clear and built of lead of more than seven minutes before the peloton began its chase, instigated by Freire's Rabobank team-mates. The leading pair were caught on the approach to the final second-cat climb, the arid-sounding Alto del Desierto de las Palmas. Although many tried to get away from the front group on the run-in to Castellon, no one got much of a lead before the hurtling bunch closed them down. The last few kilometres saw Cofidis doing an awful lot of work for O'Grady. Zabel had earlier lost another team-mate to a dicky stomach, Andreas Klier becoming the fourth T-Mobile rider to abandon. Content to sit on O'Grady's wheel when the Australian began a long dash for the line, Zabel seemed, for a few moments, to have escaped his usual fate of second place, but then found Freire coming past him the last few metres just as he had on the Via Roma in San Remo six months ago. For Freire, who is troubled by a saddle boil, it was a moment to savour and will perhaps remotivate him for a crack at the world championship in Verona next month. Stage 6, Benicarlo-Castellon de la Plana 1 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 157km in 3.48.23 (41.25kph) 2 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile 3 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis 4 Cristian Moreni (Ita) Alessio-Bianchi 5 Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Spa) Saunier Duval 6 David Fernandez (Spa) Costa de Almeria 7 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Vini Caldirola 8 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) CV-Kelme 9 Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Lampre 10 Luis Pasamontes (Spa) Relax-Bodysol 11 Pedro Horrillo (Spa) Quick Step 12 Luis Perez (Spa) Cofidis 13 Roberto Sgambelluri (Ita) Vini Caldirola 14 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 15 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco 16 Carlos Garcia Quesada (Spa) CV-Kelme 17 Jos Luis Arrieta (Spa) Illes Balears 18 Jos Enrique Gutierrez (Spa) Phonak 19 Jos Miguel Elias (Spa) Relax-Bodysol 20 Jorge Ferrio (Spa) Costa de Almeria 33 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal 42 Denis Menchov (Rus) Illes Balears 43 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 48 Joseba Beloki (Spa) Saunier Duval 49 Cadel Evans (Aus) T-Mobile 56 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal 64 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Phonak 101 Antonio Cruz (USA) US Postal 3.23 121 Michael Barry (Can) US Postal 8.29 123 David Zabriskie (USA) US Postal 131 Frank Hoj (Den) CSC 150 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile 12.54 153 Matt White (Aus) Cofidis 158 Robert Hunter (SA) Rabobank Overall standings 1 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor 22.35.39 2 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal 3 Denis Menchov (Rus) Illes Balears 0.04 4 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) CV-Kelme 0.09 5 Cadel Evans (Aus) T-Mobile 0.16 6 Benoit Joachim (Lux) US Postal 0.23 7 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 0.39 8 Carlos Garcia Quesada (Spa) CV-Kelme 0.47 9 Victor Hugo Pe¤a (Col) US Postal 0.47 10 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Phonak 0.50 11 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 0.52 12 Santiago Perez (Spa) Phonak 1.01 13 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 1.07 14 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 1.07 15 Dario Cioni (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 1.14 16 Isidro Nozal (Spa) Liberty Seguros 1.17 17 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco 1.23 18 Koldo Gil (Spa) Liberty Seguros 1.28 19 Ruben Plaza (Spa) CV-Kelme 1.32 20 David Blanco (Spa) CV-Kelme 1.34 31 Joseba Beloki (Spa) Saunier Duval 1.50 34 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Vini Caldirola 2.09 87 Antonio Cruz (USA) US Postal 13.13 102 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis 17.37 117 Michael Barry (Can) US Postal 21.38 131 David Zabriskie (USA) US Postal 25.10 136 Frank Hoj (Den) CSC 26.50 147 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile 30.07 160 Robert Hunter (SA) Rabobank 32.37 179 Matt White (Aus) Cofidis 42.09 Points 1 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis 76 2 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile 72 3 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 71 Mountains 1 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 17 2 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Lampre 16 3 Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Lampre 13
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